We recently spoke to Dee Sember and Anita Nair, owners of Batik London and overall warrior women.
Batik London is changing the way we think about global sustainability within the fashion industry. This new brand, created by Anita Nair (who is originally from Malaysia) and Dee Sember, combines merges East and West, aimed at showcasing the work of local, talented female artisans and bringing it to the UK.
Anita and Dee work with local tradeswomen and distributors to help create jobs and develop the Malaysian fashion industry. The bags are ethically handcrafted, from the sourcing of sustainable materials up to the natural processes involved with its creation, which means that every piece is different.
1 . Why have you chosen to work with Malaysian designers and how are you working with them?
Both of my parents were born in Malaysia (Anita) and all my extended family live there, so it’s a second home for me and this is exactly where the inspiration behind Batik London comes from. My childhood memories of Malaysia are from the long summer holidays that I used to spend there; I have vivid memories of the hanging rattan chairs in my grandmother’s jungle garden to the rich vibrant Asian colours that you can see everywhere you go. We wanted to bring you a little bit of my second home, home and our aim is to be that bridge between South East Asian designs and the Western fashion world. The Malaysian designers that we work with all design the bags themselves. They follow the trends that are current in the South East Asian market and they add their own touches to it. We do not interfere with their designs or how they make it as we want to keep the culture and heritage alive in every piece.
2. How long have you been working with these female designers? Can you share any stories or anecdotes?
We have been working with the female designers since early this year; most of the female artisans that we work with work independently and it is their main way of earning a living. We have been working with, for example, Dian, who lives in Kuala Lumpur. She is inspired by her late grandma and designs all the bags herself with the hope that ‘each piece exudes beauty and brings joy to her customers’. She herself works with female weavers and embroiders in Indonesia, most of whom are mothers, so she ensures that these women are making a fair wage and a decent living for themselves and their family.
3. Your brand is all about female empowerment and helping to bring these amazing designs to the UK. How is your brand changing the lives of these women, or how is it making an impact? How do you work with these women?
I would say we are having a positive impact on some level on the female artisans that we are working with in the sense that not only are we ensuring that they are making a decent standard of living in an ethical and sustainable environment, but their work and art is being seen and treasured across the other side of the world. We want to expose their talent and let others see and cherish their beautiful work of art. They are little treasures that we have discovered, and we need to shout about it! We believe that Batik London is a bridge that connects the dots between female artists and artisans all-over South-East Asia. We work directly with the artists in Malaysia, who in turn work directly with female weavers and embroiders from Indonesia. It’s like an all women team from around the world and we help each other work towards one goal whilst promoting their livelihoods, their art, culture and heritage.
4. What have been the challenges when working with Malaysia and sourcing your designs?
The main challenges have been to do with communication. Some of the women we work with know little English, as Malay is their first language. Luckily, we have been able to overcome this relatively easily with the use of my cousins who all speak Malay. It is handy having family out there! It was also tough dealing with the shipping process from Malaysia to the UK. We have learnt a lot about import/export processes and what to do and what not to do! This all comes with being an entrepreneur/business woman, however. Everything we do is a learning lesson when it comes to building our own business. You think you have figured one part of it out, but the outcome is totally different or not what we were expecting! It’s about being patient, flexible and positive along the way and we feel like we have been diligent so far along our journey and we’re excited about the rest of it! This is just the beginning!
5. What have been the highlights?
The highlights have been meeting new strong, independent and amazing people. From all the female artisans to the people we work with in London (PR, photographers etc). It truly is an amazing feeling when you see your initial idea turn into a reality and all these inspiring people that you meet along the way are helping you reach your goal and in turn you are helping them to achieve theirs too.
6. Each bag is different, and unique. How much work goes into each design?
Our pieces are handcrafted by local artisans in Malaysia using indigenous techniques such as the art of batik, which is used for the designs in the lining of our rattan bags as well as the process of rattan weaving for the beautiful outer structure of the bags. There is also a drying process where the bags are left out to dry and ‘smoked’ over coconut husk which adds to the final finishes re colour and texture. This process creates a smoky aroma which some of our bags encompass. The aroma does fade in time, but we just love it, as it really transports you on the journey of the bag and it takes us back to South-East Asia.
We work with female artisans who are experts in their field; from the weavers to the embroiders to the designers. We’re all about preserving the culture and tradition in each of the pieces too so we don’t get ourselves involved in any parts of the production processes, we leave them to work their magic!
7. You’re brand is all about beautiful designs and female empowerment - two amazing things. What can Malaysia be doing to support these designers more and bring their work into the mainstream?
Fashion in Malaysia encompasses indigenous and traditional cultures which is influenced by the major multiracial societies of the country; Chinese, Indian, Malay and other various heritages. The fashion industry isn’t the biggest of contenders compared to Malaysia’s neighboring countries, but it is getting there. From our perspective, Malaysian fashion needs to be marketed more and exposed more so that the great talents that exist in this part of the world are brought to light. We hope we can be part of this and help support them in some way.
8. What is so special about your bags? We want to know more about the designs! What do you want your customers to know?
These bags are so special because each one is individually and carefully handmade and crafted. It is made using raw and natural rattan as well as traditional techniques e.g. the batik process of creating a colourful and eye-catching inner lining. It’s not something you see everyday in the UK let alone in Europe or the Western world even! They are lightweight too so very ideal for the warmer weather! They can make any outfit look that much more attractive and unique!
9. Dee, and Anita - what is your favourite design, and why?
We actually both have different favorites. Dee’s favorite is the Cinta and Anita’s is the Kaktus. The Cinta is beautifully weaved with a braid type design that is so attractive and eye-catching. The batik lining inside makes it even more attractive as there are sections to the bag where you can see the batik fabric. The Kaktus is just adorable! It is in the shape of a little cactus which already is totally unique and has a very summery vibe to it! It truly is a statement bag!
10. Would you say you were activist designers, working on tackling fast fashion, moving towards sustainability and building economy and awareness in Malaysia?
We would like to think we are impacting the lives of those we are working way in some positive way, even if it is a little. We are certainly creating awareness for Malaysia in the Western World; it is a beautiful country with rich culture and heritages and a place that is only recently getting popular. Our bags revolve around sustainable materials, ethical working environments and of course, travel in and around Malaysia. Malaysia holds a dear place in my heart (Anita) and so it is easy for us to build some sort of awareness to this amazing country.
11. Is there anything else you want our readers to know about Batik London.
Batik London is on a mission to make sure that consumers know what they are purchasing, where the pieces are made and how they are made. We believe that by knowing where their items come from, consumers appreciate what they are buying, enabling them to be more socially and environmentally conscious.
Batik London is building a bridge between East and West. Bringing the designs to the mainstream, whilst maintaining Malaysian culture and tradition, found in each design. Each bag is an original one of a king design, made by local women in Malaysia using tradition techniques and processes.
For more information, please visit https://www.batiklondon.com/ or follow them on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/batik_london/